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VIET NAM WAR: "IT WAS THEIR COUNTRY. THEY DESERVE RESPECT."
By Dan Southerland
Lubbock, Texas–When Hollywood made a movie (BAT-21) about the dramatic rescue of a downed American pilot during the Vietnam War, it left one man out: the South Vietnamese navy officer who was a key member of the rescue team.
In April 1972, during the largest search and rescue operation of the war, Petty Officer Nguyen Van Kiet spent 11 days behind enemy lines helping to locate and extract the U.S. airman.
Kiet's story was highlighted among many others honoring the South Vietnamese military during a recent two-day conference organized by The Vietnam Center at Texas Tech University. The center's main goal is to collect archives representing all aspects of the war, including the work of those who supported the war as well as those who opposed it.
Why was the heroism of Petty Officer Kiet and so many others ignored by the U.S. media and numerous historians during and after the war?
It was easier to cover American actions
First of all, it was easier to cover American actions and American views on the war than to report on the Vietnamese. Due partly to the language barrier, the South Vietnamese were never good at explaining themselves. The Communists were better propagandists. Few American reporters tried to learn Vietnamese and few covered the Vietnamese armed forces with any consistency.
I studied the Vietnamese language on and off during the war and had the good fortune to be assigned to cover "the Vietnamese side of the war" by both UPI and The Christian Science Monitor. I traveled to every province in South Vietnam.
I reported on Vietnamese successes - and failures. I reported on crucial battles in 1972, when the South Vietnamese withstood encirclement and tank attacks at Kontum and An Loc. I was in Quang Tri Province when South Vietnamese marines fought inch by inch to recover a provincial capital which had been pulverized by North Vietnamese artillery and tanks.
But I now wish that I had done much more and dug much deeper.
In recent years we have finally begun to gain a better perspective on the South Vietnamese Army, or the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).
On March 17 and 18, The Vietnam Center in Lubbock brought together a number of historians, political scientists, writers, and former South Vietnamese officers to reexamine the role of the South Vietnamese military. Drawing on their own research, many Americans at the meeting concluded that the South Vietnamese had performed much better in the war than most accounts acknowledge.
Hollywood, of course, will probably never get it right.
"When Hollywood produces a movie, they are under no obligation to tell the truth," said Darrel D. Whitcomb, an author and former Air Force officer who flew rescue missions in Vietnam, including support for the 1972 rescue effort. He led one of the panels at the Lubbock conference.
Increased respect for them is more than deserved
But historians have an obligation to tell the truth. And three decades after the end of the war, they are producing work that challenges the conventional wisdom on Vietnam and restores credit to the South Vietnamese.
Take for example, Lewis Sorley's fine book, A Better War, published in 1999, that documents improvements in the ARVN over the years. The South Vietnamese paid a price for fighting hard. They lost more than 230,000 men during this terrible war. Increased respect for them is more than deserved.
A conference on "Vietnam and the Presidency," the first of its kind, held March 10 and 11 in Boston, featured prominent American figures from the Vietnam War: Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and Jimmy Carter among others. Unfortunately, no Vietnamese were invited to speak. I understand that some leading Vietnamese-Americans tried to get invitations but were turned down.
One topic at the meeting was "Lessons Learned."
When talking about Vietnam - even when it concerns the presidency - it's useful to talk with and listen to the Vietnamese themselves. It was their country. They deserve respect.
Dan Southerland, Vice President and Executive Editor of Radio Free Asia, covered the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 1960s and 70s. He left Saigon at the end of April 1975 on one of the last helicopters out of the South Vietnamese capital as North Vietnamese tanks entered the city.
IN LOOKING BACK AT THE COURAGEOUS FIGHTING
by Hai Trieu
In The Vietnam War, we had the ability to win over the North Vietnamese Communists, but we were forced to become the losers, or in other words, we were not allowed to be the wining party. That is the sadness of our country in general, and of our Republic Vietnam's Army in particular, and especially, it's the sadness of everyone of us, South Vietnamese soldiers. On the recent pages of our country's history, seemingly still smeared with the blood of our comrade-in-arms, only some part of the truth was uncovered, but the fact that The South Vietnam and The Republic Vietnam's Army have been forced to surrender is very clear.
Thirty years's been just passing on our grey hair since the collapsing of Saigon and South Vietnam, our beloved capital, our country. And it seems to me that the pain and the sorrow of the "Saigon Mayday" in 1975 just happened yesterday.
Our group, the writers of "THE UNNAMED BATTLEFIELDS IN THE HISTORY OF THE REPUBLIC VIETNAM'S ARMY", would like to cite some facts, to let our compatriots and comrade-in-arms know that our army has been forced to die, as we all need to know it and to think about it...
THE REAL STORIES
.... But it was never the military defeat that many claimed. Most of the men and women, American and South Vietnamese, who fought bravely and died in Vietnam did so essentially for the same ideals that Americans have died for in every war. The war's managers were the ones who failed.
Another flag of freedom
By Ron Wright
Special to the Star-Telegram
(Posted on Mon, Dec. 29, 2003)
HT: (this observation is completely in accordance with General Westmoreland's opinion, in the next two parts)
"The United States Army and The South Vietnam Army have not lost the Vietnam War, but the policy makers and the members of the United States' Congress have forced us to lose it. I have fought with you during 4 years; I admired you, and I still admire you now."
"I think that at the end, freedom and democracy will win the final victory..."
(General Westmoreland declared during the international political conference in the Dirksen Senate Building, Washington DC on 2/5/1995 with the subject "Prospects for Democracy in Vietnam after 20 years of totalitarian Misrule/ organized by ICFV International committee for a Free Vietnam)
The interview with General Westmoreland by Thoi Luan newspaper.
As a Commander of the U.S. Army in Vietnam, how do you find the fighting capability of the US Army and of the RV Army, when confronting with the North Vietnam communist army?
I admire the highly combatting spirit of the South Vietnamese Army. As of the US. Army, I have nothing more to say. It's because the end of Vietnam War was originated by political problems and not by military's reasons.
(Thoi Luan, 11/05/1995, Nguyen Van Hung interviewed General Westmoreland about the International conference on 2/5/1995)
"...During the Cabinet meeting on the next day in the White House, Kissinger reported: "At this moment, all the North Vietnam's Army are in the South... We only need a Brigate of Marine to conquer the North. The Paris Peace Accords have been severely violated!"
During the first weeks of April, there was a lot of effort behind-the-scenes to overturn President Thieu. Things turned out that finally The South Vietnam had two enemies: The Communists and The United States.
(Larry Berman: No Peace, No Honor : Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam, page 353)
Notes: "the Cabinet meeting on the following day" happened in the mid. April 1975, eleven days after the last day of General Fred Weyand's visit in Vietnam to evaluate the situation, at the order of President Ford (No Peace, No Honor / Larry Berman).
General Weyand proposed to aid Vietnam with 722 millions of dollars but the U.S. Congress refused. (No Peace, No Honor / Larry Berman, page 352)
- Only a Brigade of Marine? And at least 4 battle tested Division of the South Vietnam's Reserved Army were still intact. Hanoi has blatantly violated the Paris Peace Accords, and why the United States did not overrun North Vietnam, to liberate Hanoi? The United States did not do a thing! (Hai Trieu)
- Later on, when asked why North Vietnam never provided a complete list of prisoners of war, Vernon Walters answered that, "Le Duc Tho looked at Kissinger's face during the peace talk in Paris and said: 'I don't know why I need to talk with you. I have just talked with Senator Mc Govern during 6 hours. The anti-war movement in your country will force you to give me what I want!' "
(Larry Berman's "No Peace, No Honor" pages 142 and 143 / unclassified document)
"... We came to Vietnam, first of all, to help the South Vietnamese only, and not in order to win the North Vietnam. We give our hand and the South Vietnamese took it. Now, they need our helping hand more than never. More than any standard, 20 millions people (of the South Vietnam) have told the world about the threat that weighs on their destiny, about their attachments with the values when they live without the communists, and they told us about their dreams to find a way to live the same lives as before, different than those of the people under harsh laws of the North."
"The level of the aids from the United States will surely lead the South Vietnamese government to the defeat. The 150 million dollars, the rest of the 750 million dollars of the fiscal year 1975 is only enough for a short term big supply. The chance to succeed exists only if they have right now an extra 722 million dollars, to help South Vietnam to have the strength to protect themselves against the invasion of the North Vietnam, who has the helps of the Russia and the China. The extra help from the United States is not against the spirit and the way of the Paris Peace Accords, the basic document for the peace agreements in Vietnam..."
"The prestige of the United States, as an allied country, is tested in Vietnam. To protect it, we need to help Vietnam the most possible, and right now."
Fred C. Weyand, General and Chief Officer of the US Army
General Weyand's report to the President on 4/4/1975. This excerpt is also found in "No Peace, No Honor" by Larry Berman on pages 351 and 352.
(General Weyand's report and recommendation to the President of the United States dated 4/4/75 when North Vietnam's army only reached the border of the second strategic war area. However, the United States has decided to leave, although General Weyand asked for an extra of only 722 million of dollars. Forcing the South Vietnam and its army to break down, obviously is a disloyal and submissive strategy" of the United States –Hai Trieu notes.)
On April 30th, 1975, after the fall of Saigon...
"...South Vietnam is no more. In the White House, a cabinet meeting was called. The atmosphere was dull, but Kissinger still found something positive: We have saveguarded our honor, by evacuating 42 to 45 thousands of Vietnamese people!..."
Major General Vernon Walters, the military attacher who accompanied Kissinger in and out of Paris during "the secret meetings" did not look at things that way. Until now, he still keeps a South Vietnam's flag in his office. When asked about the flag, he explained that it represents "mission unfinished." We have left 39 millions people fallen into the slavery of the communists (HT notes)."
(Excerpt from "No Peace, No Honor" / Larry Berman, page 361)
"The South Vietnam has fought effectively during 25 years and was not always helped by the United States. I think that no country can stand such a long and devastating war .. In sum, that army has been better than people's assessment..."
(Peter Kahn / The Wall Street Journal / May 2. 1975 "Commemoration of the South Vietnam")
All the historical defeat and the incompetence, cowardness of the Western leaders are heaped onto the back of the Vietnamese soldiers ... It's dishonest and unfair. The shame is on us, and not on the South Vietnam's army".
(David Halberstan / Newsweek.)
"Now, the Vietnamese communist party stops seeing their invasion of South Vietnam as one of their victories. If communism is an utopia and the expectations are unrealistic when they built up the war, sacrificing millions of people to impose their doctrine on a nation, then it's a mistake, and more than that, it's a curse.
But the most important thing, is that the book will show that the South Vietnam has defeated the communists in the battlefields, in the villages, and the forests..."
(Excerpt from "Victory Lost" by Professor Stephen Young / Foreword, page 15)
Thanks to the political climate in the United States, not even that measure of support was available when the North Vietnamese attacked again in 1975, and we proceeded to abandon 17 million allies to the communists.
JOHN G. MILLER, Annapolis
While Robert H. Nooter "received reports" in Hue, Col. Robert Molinelli was over the battlefield. He wrote in the Armed Forces Journal on April 19,1971: "A South Vietnamese battalion of 420 men was surrounded by an enemy regiment of 2,500–3,300 men for three days. The U.S. could not get supplies to the unit. It fought till it ran low on ammunition, then battled its way out of the encirclement using captured enemy weapons and ammunition. It carried all of its wounded and some of its dead with it. Reconnaissance photos showed 637 visible enemy dead around its position."
As for 1975, the North won because the South Vietnamese were short of everything from rifle and artillery rounds to tank parts, radio batteries and bandages after Congress cut aid in 1974. Even the enemy said so. Nevertheless, a reinforced South Vietnamese division held off five of Hanoi's best divisions for a week at Xuan Loc, in a battle as brave as any ever fought by Americans.
It's bad enough that we abandoned the South Vietnamese. Let's not insult them to assuage our guilt.
HARRY F. NOYES III, San Antonio
It can be done! Attacking the Ho Chi Minh Trail would have been such a blow to the belly. I have met Gen. Dong Si Nguyen, the commander in charge of Transport Rout 559, many times, and during the war we talk about his worries. From 1964 to 1968 he was very concerned that the United State would attack the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He told me: " They can bomb it, no sweat! Even if they use B-52s that would still not worry me. What worries me most is they will send in troops and/ or use choppers to land some commandos or drop paratroopers who would occupy a chunk ot the trail. This would throw the entire complicated system out of whack, and our transportation would certainly suffer delays.. For this is our route (of infiltration into the South).
My friends and comrades at the Joint General Staff, colonels and brigadier generals, were also worried about thi eventuality. They confided to me in 1965-1966: "All they have to do is to use two or three divisions, both Americans and Saigon troops to occupy the chunk of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, then we would be in trouble!
(Bui Tin: From Enemy to Friend / Foreword by James Webb/ Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland - page 74 & 75)
We do not have the exact number, but if we use the year 1968 with the Mau Than's general attack by the communists of North Vietnam, we can se that they have these advantages over us:
- Their attacks were sudden, regardless of the cease-fire accord for three days of the New Year.
- North Vietnamese infantries had good weapons such as automatic AK rifles, and B40 rocket launchers, and other kinds of machine guns, while most of our troupes, including regional or local militaries still use old kinds of weapons, almost trashy ones from the second world war, such as Garant, Carbin, grenade launchers Garant, etc... and we did not have M72, M79, M16...
- During The night of the New Year, the US soldiers stopped fighting, and did not fire back even when the Vietnamese communists came into the cities right in front of their rifles!
In sum, the North Vietnamese soldiers have been equipped much better than the South Vietnamese soldiers, but, following the revelation of Professor Nguyen The Tien and Poet Che Lan Vien, the North Vietnamese army has been defeated by the Republic Vietnam's army in all fronts ... from the southern border of Ben Hai river to the Ca Mau area... Che Lan Viet wrote: "Mau Than, two thousands people went down the mountain, but only 30 people survived after just one night...
"Mau Than, two thousands people went to the plain, but only 30 people survived after just one night..."
Who ? Me ?
(Che Lan Vien)
Mau Than, two thousands people went to the plain, but only 30 people survived after just one night...Who were responsible for those two thousands deaths?
Che Lan Viet has written the truth. In the sweeping attack Mau Than in 1968, the communists in both areas have failed and lost tragically, and their officers from lieutenants to colonels of North Vietnam have lost all their ardent fighting spirit. I have to repeat once more: Right in 1968, North Vietnam got the aids from the Russia, the China and the Eastern Europe who helped them with their personal and group weapons surpassing those of the South Vietnamese Army. The units of infantry and regional soldiers did not have M16, M72, M79... while North Vietnamese Army stormily attacked us with all kinds of modern weapons such as AK and B40...
It was not that the US did not see the truth. The unclassified documents show that Kissinger wanted to cut loose from Vietnam since that period.
(No Peace, No Honor. Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam.)
It's exactly like what General Weyand presented in # 6, the Americans came to Vietnam just to help us to defend ourselves, not to win the war, or more clearly, the Americans did not want or did not let the Republic Vietnam Army or the United States Army to win and liberate the North Vietnam, because of the global strategy of the United States in order to win over communism. They fired General Westmoreland and at last they forced us to fall apart. South Vietnam and Republic Vietnam Army have been sacrified, and in the world peace after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there were the contribution of our blood and our honor. We have to say it to the world, now and in the future. Our group of military writers have contributed our efforts to this hard mission of our country in general and of our South Vietnamese soldiers in particular...
The 1973 Paris Agreement allowed many communist divisions stayed deep inside South Vietnam territory (and actually supported by the whole Soviet block, including China). And then US Army leaving the battle fields from Mekong Delta to Ben Hai River, we, the South Vietnam Army Forces alone, I say again, alone, fought back the North Vietnam Army + Soviet block support until the last day of April 1975.
As my understanding, my opinion, General Duong Van Minh, the last president surrended, not our Arm Forces. But no matter what, we are pround of what we had done for our country. The Vietnam war is not over yet. We are still fighting for democracy and freedom for our country and waiting for the collapsing of Hanoi regime. For that reasons, we are still the soldiers.
Hai Trieu, Army veteran and writer Editor of Vietnam Magazine
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